The Tipping Point


Here’s why you need to read The Tipping Point. You don’t!!

Look, it’s not because the writing is poor, the concepts disorganized, or the book fails to instruct. It’s simply that the ideas are anachronistic. This is no fault of Malcolm Gladwell. He published in 2000, wrote in ‘99, and used case studies from the mid-90’s. How could he have known he was publishing a book about social media on the eve of social media’s inchoate move into our social DeoxyriboNucleicAcid, or that the overgrowth of

Here’s why you need to read The Tipping Point. You don’t!!Look, it’s not because the writing is poor, the concepts disorganized, or the book fails to instruct. It’s simply that the ideas are anachronistic. This is no fault of Malcolm Gladwell. He published in 2000, wrote in ‘99, and used case studies from the mid-90’s. How could he have known he was publishing a book about social media on the eve of social media’s inchoate move into our social DeoxyriboNucleicAcid, or that the overgrowth of social connectedness would evolve at rates understated by the term logarithmic.This is a snappy little book--a good one for Thursday evening book club affairs. I quite liked it. Digestible chapters with jaunty titles, connecting for the reader complex sociocultural beliefs to gravid marketing slogans. Pert discussion, and a context that builds on previous conclusions, leading the audience like an unbridled horse gently to water. Gladwell, he’s a good salesman, one that can close a deal without hiding a rotten premolar or repeatedly glancing at his wristwatch. It’s 3.5 stars.Nevertheless, if you’ve fogged a mirror in the last 10 years, much of what Gladwell worked hard to synthesize in year 2000 is merely a matter of course in the mercurial, social, connected life we lead today. Essentially the book is about marketing. (There’s more herein than marketing, but that’s what I’d like to focus on). The title underscores a link throughout the book, viz., that no matter the medium, information reaches a ‘tipping’ point beyond which it spreads above and away from any reasonable measure of altitude control. He repeatedly uses the term epidemic, and I like the image that word conjures in my mind when I think of how pervasive and persistent and contagious marketing can be (like the scene in Ten Commandments where the pestilence of God’s wrath moves down from the moon and like a swampy yellow miasma flows through the streets of Ramses’s Egypt) . Gladwell lays down some meaty discussion about the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefore's’ of the nature of networked relationships, using sociology, psychology, penal philosophy, genetics, pop culture, economics, archeobiology, and personal interviews. It’s a snapshot of a fossil, though. He is in essence describing our world when information was still Near Real Time (NRT), a military acronym meaning ‘actionable’ but not ‘exactable.’ We upgraded that acronym circa 2004-2006 when information became--no shit--Real Time. Real Time worldwide data is a phenomena we’ve only recently begun to comprehend and manipulate. Write a discussion about how your start-up can triangulate consumers, and you’ll have a lead story in Harvard Business Review. Develop an android app that geolocates high volume consumers, and Starbucks will give $$credit$$ to the first 10 people that check into their stores in Cleveland, Charlotte, and Chattanooga. Twitter trends topics, not daily, but hourly. Google Metrics displays global boolean traffic on word searches RIGHT NOW. Crowdsourcing, flash mobs, #hashtags. I can set a Google alert that pings me the next time Brittany Spears has an inadvertent bush shot at the Palms Casino. I can scan barcodes on my phone, and know by a factor of pennies where I can get the cheapest sun dried tomatoes. I can listen to any law enforcement scanner in the country while sitting in my tighty-whities in my fall-out basement. Gowalla, Foursquare, StumbleUpon, grooveshark, HTML5, mashable, MMORPGs, skype, Goodreads. And the every present memes--viral video memes, photo memes--Christ, look at the major news networks during an election and watch the TV anchors in the studio move to the floating, diaphanous plates of glass and enlarge voting counties and predict elections with two-fingered zoom.

Malcolm Gladwell could not have foreseen the breadth and rapidity of tipping points in today’s market. No one could have--not even industry leaders in year 2000. Tipping points are not isolated events anymore, like the slow resurgence of Hush Puppy shoes from 1994-1996 (the most cited tipping point in the book, and one Gladwell considers--by his own criteria--rapid). They are daily memes, forcing us into ever tighter circles of consumption, and causing many of us to brux our teeth when we lose cell coverage or go to airplane mode on our smart phones. SMART PHONES--a technology by itself that puts the rust on Gladwell’s conception of tipping points. Despite sound research methodology, and pertinent statistical evaluation, I don’t envision many people going back to The Tipping Point. It’s like reading last week’s headlines; last year’s Consumer Reports; financial data from 2008; political promises from 2006; real estate values from 2005, or the Manhattan skyline on 10 Sep 2001. Maybe for an anecdotal dissertation by some students squirreled away at Weber State or Lehigh University, but other than that I think most of the 77,000 Goodread reviews of this book occurred much nearer the time it was on the best seller list in 2000-2001. There are 4 copies available at my library. It ain’t flying off the shelves anymore, and neither is the 1994 Rand McNally Atlas. You dig?

But, wait, let’s go deeper. I dogeared these passages.Here are the titles of the 4 parts of this book.

I.EpidemicsII. The Law of the Few: Connectors, Mavens, and SalesmenIII. The Stickiness Factor

IV. The Power of Context

-- These are important constituents in marketing, but Gladwell speaks of months and years. We both know it's days and hours in 2011.

What was the connection between the East Village and Middle America? The Law of the Few says the answer is that one of these exceptional people found out about the trend, and through social connections and energy and enthusiasm and personality spread the word about Hush Puppies. (p. 22)

-- Social connectedness was an ephemeral measurement in 1999. Now organizations have followers (see Facebook and Twitter) and can measure their daily virility (see the ‘like’ button and most-viewed videos on Youtube) and watch their epidemic spread (see trending topics on technorati or mashable or gizmodo).

It is safe to say that word of mouth is--even in this age of mass communications and multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns--still the most important form of human communication. Think, for a moment, about the last expensive restaurant you went to, the last expensive piece of clothing you bought, and the last movie you saw. In how many of those cases was your decision about where to spend your money heavily influenced by the recommendation of a friend...word-of-mouth appeals have become the only kind of persuasion that most of us respond to anymore. (p. 32)

-- Yes, word of mouth is, indeed, persuasive. But, today we are motivated and persuaded even more by word of text!!!

Your friends...occupy the same world that you do. They might work with you, or live near you, and go to the same churches, schools, or parties. How much, then, would they know that you wouldn’t know? Your acquaintances, on the other hand, by definition occupy a very different world than you. They are much more likely to know something that you don’t... Acquaintances, in short, represent a source of social power, and the more acquaintances you have the more powerful you are. (p. 54)

-- This is perhaps Gladwell’s most prophetic statement. I know more people today having never met face to face than actual people I knew in 1999.

Mavens have the knowledge and the social skills to start word-of-mouth epidemics. What sets Mavens apart, though, is not so much what they know but how they pass it along. The fact that Mavens want to help, for no other reason than because they like to help, turns out to be an awfully effective way of getting someone’s attention. (p. 67)

-- Today Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and Ben Affleck, combined, have more ‘followers’ than the population of Panama.

We have become, in our society, overwhelmed by people clamoring for our attention. In just the past decade, the time devoted to advertisements in a typical hour of network television has grown from 6 minutes to 9 minutes, and it continues to climb every year...estimates that the average American is now exposed to 254 different commercial messages in a day, up nearly 25% since the mid-1970s. There are now millions of web sites on the Internet, cable systems routinely carry over 50 channels of programming, and a glance inside the magazine section of any bookstore will tell you that there are thousands of magazines coming out each month... (p. 98)

-- Multiply all of the above figures by a factor of 10 to the 2nd power. A rate of growth that cannot be compared by measuring from 1999 back to the existence of Abraham.

The spread of any new and contagious ideology has a lot to do with the skillful use of group power. (p. 172)

-- The skillful use of group power makes me feel violated in today’s marketing environment.
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